Phase 3 in Singapore will be starting on 28 December, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced yesterday (14 December) as he shared updates on the COVID-19 situation in the country.
With the start of Phase 3, capacity limits in public places like malls and attractions, and at places of worship will be eased. One key change is the increase in the maximum number of people per group - from the current five, to eight.
Further reopening of the community in Phase 3
According to a media release by the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Multi-Ministry Taskforce will allow for the following further re-opening of activities in the community once Phase 3 begins on 28 December:
- Larger social gatherings: Social gatherings can comprise up to eight people - up from five people today. Households may receive up to eight visitors at any point in time. However, Singaporeans are advised to limit their social circle to a small group of regular contacts to reduce the likelihood of spread.
- Increase in capacity limits of premises: Malls and large standalone stores will see a capacity limit increase from 10 square metres per person to 8 square metres per person. Attractions may start applying to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to increase their operating capacity from 50% to 65%. However, measures must continue to be put in place to prevent crowding.
- Increase in capacity for Religious Organisations (ROs): The capacity for congregational and other worship services will be increased to 250 people (in zones of up to 50 people for each congregational service). Additionally, congregational and other worship services as well as religious rites/ prayers conducted at places of worship may involve live performance elements (e.g. with a limited number of singers, wind and other instruments) with the necessary safe management measures in place.
- Up to eight visitors allowed for marriage solemnisations held at home: From Phase 3, the hosting household for marriage solemnisations will be able to invite up to 8 visitors (excluding members of the hosting household, the solemniser and vendors), even if this exceeds the existing cap of 10 persons.
- Live music allowed for indoor marriage solemnisations and funerals and funerary-related activities: Marriage solemnisations (in indoor venues only), funerals and funerary-related activities will also be allowed to have live instrumental music (except for wind instruments) with the necessary safe management measures in place.
- Indoor live performances can now have up to 250 people: indoor live performances will now be allowed to have up to 250 people in zones of up to 50 people each. Outdoor live performance pilots will also be expanded to 250 people in zones of up to 50 people each, to ensure that venues are still able to safely manage larger outdoor performances and mitigate the gathering of peripheral crowds.
The safe reopening of borders
While Singapore is entering Phase 3 in two weeks' time, PM Lee emphasised that the battle is far from won.
He said: "The COVID-19 virus has not been eradicated. There is a long way to go. Around the world, the pandemic is still raging. Many countries are seeing second, third, or even fourth waves of infection, with record numbers of daily cases. International borders remain largely closed."
However, given that trade and travel are Singapore's lifeblood, the Government is re-opening borders in a controlled and safe manner. As this happens, more imported cases are expected, he said, adding: "This is a calculated risk we have to accept. But the government will take every precaution, and do our best to prevent imported cases from triggering a new outbreak."
Apart from the precautions the Government is taking, Singaporeans are advised to keep their guard up, possibly for the next year or more, depending on how soon COVID-19 vaccines become available.
First shipment of vaccines by end December
In an update about the availability of vaccines, PM Lee noted that the Government has been working quietly behind the scenes to secure early access to vaccines. This included signing advance purchase agreements, making early down-payments for the most promising candidates, and even supporting local efforts to develop a vaccine. All this, to ensure that Singapore would be near the front of the queue for vaccines, and not last in line.
With the first vaccines now coming into production, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for pandemic use after studying the scientific evidence and clinical trial data. The first shipment should arrive by the end of this month, making Singapore one of the first countries to obtain this vaccine.
"We also expect other vaccines to arrive in Singapore in the coming months. If all goes according to plan, we will have enough vaccines for everyone in Singapore by third quarter 2021," PM Lee said.
The committee of doctors and experts set up by MOH to recommend a vaccination strategy has proposed that Singapore's entire adult population should be vaccinated, but vaccinations should be voluntary.
First priority will be given to those who are at greatest risk: healthcare workers and frontline personnel, as well as the elderly and vulnerable. Thereafter, the committee proposed to progressively vaccinate the rest of the population, and to cover everyone who wants a vaccination by the end of next year.
"The Government has accepted these recommendations. I have personal confidence in our experts. My cabinet colleagues and I, including the older ones, will be getting ourselves vaccinated early. This is to show you, especially seniors like me, that we believe the vaccines are safe," PM Lee said.
Vaccinations free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents
The Prime Minister also announced that vaccinations will be made free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents who are currently in the country.
He said: "I strongly encourage you to get vaccinated too, when the vaccine is offered to you because when you get yourself vaccinated, you are not just protecting yourself. You are also doing your part to protect others, especially your loved ones. The more of us are vaccinated, the harder it will be for the virus to spread, and the safer we will all be as a society."
Photo / screengrab of PM Lee's address